Sunday Book Review – The Lottery by Shirley Jackson

Sunday Book Review

Book reviews by D.G. Kaye

 

Today’s Sunday Book Review is on a very short book – a short story titled The Lottery, written by Shirley Jackson. It was first published in 1948 in the June edition of the New Yorker Magazine, which made her famous.

 

I don’t even know how I came across this book while I was visiting Amazon, but I began reading reviews about this book and how it became a literary favorite and part of the reading curriculum in middle and high schools back in the 1950s and 60s, yet people seem to be re-reading it now. As a person who is always interested in ‘what’s all the buzz about?’ I bought the book and read it in less than 45 minutes. Personally speaking, I really don’t get what the buzz is all about, but I share my review below.

 

Biography

Shirley Jackson was born in San Francisco in 1916. She first received wide critical acclaim for her short story “The Lottery,” which was published in 1948. Her novels–which include The Sundial, The Bird’s Nest, Hangsaman, The Road through the Wall, We Have Always Lived in the Castle and The Haunting of Hill House–are characterized by her use of realistic settings for tales that often involve elements of horror and the occult. Raising Demons and Life Among the Savages are her two works of nonfiction. Come Along With Me is a collection of stories, lectures, and part of the novel she was working on when she died in 1965. All are currently in print (Penguin). Two posthumous volumes of her short fiction are Just An Ordinary Day (Bantam) and Let Me Tell You (Random House). A graphic novel adaptation of “The Lottery” by Miles Hyman, her grandson, was published in 2016 (Farrar-Straus-Giroux). Also in 2016: Dark Tales by Shirley Jackson (Penguin Classics) and an authorized biography by Ruth Franklin: Shirley Jackson: A Rather Haunted Life (Norton).

 

 

Blurb:

In a small American town, the local residents are abuzz with excitement and nervousness when they wake on the morning of the twenty-seventh of June. Everything has been prepared for the town’s annual tradition—a lottery in which every family must participate, and no one wants to win.

“The Lottery” stands out as one of the most famous short stories in American literary history. Originally published in The New Yorker, the author immediately began receiving letters from readers who demanded an explanation of the story’s meaning. “The Lottery” has been adapted for stage, television, radio and film.

 

My 4 Star Review:

This book is touted as one of the most famous short stories in American literature written by Shirley Jackson. It’s a dark tale about a small town of people who are made to participate in the annual town lottery event.

Jackson undoubtedly has a wonderful writing style, able to draw readers in with tight prose and well fleshed out characters and she takes us into a story about a seemingly average event where everyone is preparing to head to the town’s center to pick out their lottery paper – only one winner? loser? will be chosen.

The story haunts us by the actions of the people and how desperate they are with hope not to be chosen, to the point of selling out their own family members. It leaves us feeling uncomfortable about thinking how and why society should accept this grim event as the norm.

I wasn’t bowled over about this book as many readers were, despite good writing. It left me thinking about the human condition and society. It was creepy and most of all left me wondering – why the lottery at all? Can older days become modern times?

I’d classify this story as early American Gothic Fiction – let’s hope it stays that way.

 

40 thoughts on “Sunday Book Review – The Lottery by Shirley Jackson

  1. Debby, you with clarity and depth about this short story and it can be daunting to review books termed as ‘classics’. Kudos to you for not feeling weighed down or swayed by the overwhelming praise for this book. Only this morning I read a short story by an author I admire and whose books I’ve devoured … I was underwhelmed to say the least!

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    1. Thanks Annika. As in all reviews, it’s our opinion, what we took from a story and how it made us feel, so just sayin’! 🙂 Not all books resonate with everyone. 🙂 x

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  2. Hi Debby – interesting … the book has influenced so many – Stephen King and Neil Gaiman to name two … but I too think I’ll give it a miss … though might remember and see if I can find it in the Library … cheers Hilary

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  3. I’ve heard a lot about this story and your review is certainly intriguing. It sounds so grim. I actually like stories that stick and leave me thinking about the human condition, nature of the species and our choices. I’m looking forward to the read. 🙂 Thanks, Debby!

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  4. I know about the author (she is well known and respected in horror circles, althogh I don’t think I’ve read any of her books, but I must) and I’m intrigued. I wonder if this inspired The Hunger Games… (although I guess it’s not unique but…) Thanks, Debby.

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  5. Thanks for the heads-up, I need upliftment, not anything heavy right now. Much love and hugs flowing to you my special unicorn buddy and for Gordan. ❤ xXx ❤

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  6. Intriguing review, Debby. You did your best not to give the game away. But maybe you’ve scared most of us reading because our imaginations are even more horrific than hers. 🙂 I wonder more the purpose of the lottery than what the winner/loser may receive.

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    1. As a person who is a scared cat about reading horror, I wouldn’t classify this as horror – more a disturbing read. And your last sentence was what I felt at the end of the story – I wondered what the reasoning was for the lottery too. 🙂

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  7. Very interesting, Debby. Early American Gothic Fiction- I like that description. I don’t mind reading thriller or horror, but I really don’t like reading unkindness and what people do in desperate times. My husband calls me a Pollyanna, and that’s fine with me.

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  8. What an interesting coincidence. I just came from visiting another blogger’s review – literally two minutes ago — and she loves the book. Some of her responders hail it as the story that turned them on to reading or writing.
    Even more coincidental — I only visited that blogger just now because she “liked” a comment I left on someone else’s blog…. a blog I rarely visit. Then I decided to visit your blog, Debby.
    Weird, eh?

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    1. Wow, that is strange Cynthia. And yes, it’s the type book that leaves an impact, maybe I just didn’t like the way the story left me feeling as well as some of the whys, like what the purpose of the lottery was. 🙂 No doubt it’s good writing though. 🙂

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  9. Oh, I recall having to read this story for English class in high school (not sure what grade). It was creepy and had a Big Brother 1984 feel to it. Like the people had no control over what would happen to them. I guess its had a resurgence in popularity due to the illustrated version the grandson published? It’s amazing how a short story can have such a HUGE cultural impact. Thanks for sharing your review and thoughts on this, Debby. Very interesting!

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    1. Thanks for chiming in Lis. Seems you are the only other person so far that’s commented who has read this too. Yes, I found it somewhat Orwellian. And also I think the current political climate has brought back certain books to the public’s attention this past year, particularly 1984 has had a huge resurgence last year. Eerie times! 🙂

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  10. Thanks for this introduction to Lottery, Debby. It’s new to me, and sounds fascinating. I love these types of social experiments of the human condition. Always much to ponder afterwards.
    Thanks so much for sharing. 🙂

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  11. I remember reading that one many years ago. I enjoyed the attention to detail but admit it’s all a bit hazy after so many reads since then 😉 Thanks for the honest review – I don’t like every classic read out there to be honest!

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